The number of jobless claims dropped last week by the largest amount since June, affirming that the previous week's extraordinary increase was indeed an aberration. According to the Labor Department, 34,000 fewer people filed for unemployment benefits last week for a total of 324,000 claims after a jump of 35,000 the week before.

The Senate passed a bill Wednesday to bolster courtroom security after attacks on judges increased in recent years. It would become a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, to post information online about a judge, law enforcement official, juror, witness, or their family members with the intent to harm or threaten them.

West Virginia investigators have determined that a lightning strike sparked the methane gas explosion deep inside the Sago Mine, where 12 coal miners died in January, a union official said Thursday.

About six marines are expected to face charges in the coming weeks of killing 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha, according to members of the House Armed Services Committee briefed Wednesday on the military investigation. Rep. Mark Udall (D) of Colorado said it appeared that the "rules of engagement" weren't followed when the marines responded to a roadside bomb in 2005.

Officials said that employees of a gear factory in Milwaukee were evacuating the building because of a propane leak when an explosion leveled the Falk Corp. warehouse, killing three workers and injuring 46 others. Investigators, however, were still trying Thursday to determine the exact cause of the blast.

The body of James Kim, whose wife and two young daughters were rescued in a remote wilderness area of Oregon this week, was found by a helicopter crew on Wednesday. Investigators believe he may have traveled eight miles looking for help before winding up a mile from the car where his vacationing family had gotten stuck in snow.

The US government has asked Disney to help improve its image after being rated the world's most unfriendly country to visitors in a November survey. Disney will recommend ways to improve the atmosphere and service at Washington's Dulles International and Houston's airports, which could serve as industry models.

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